~ by Trevor Phipps ~
All summer long, traffic complaints have dominated conversations by local residents who complain about Highway 24 tie-ups and desperately search for alternative routes.
Visitation seems to have increased this summer, leading to the highway through Woodland Park getting backed up, and therefore slowing down travel times tremendously. Anyone who has tried to travel west on Highway 24 on a Friday or east on the same highway on a Sunday this summer has encountered traffic problems.
The increased amount of traffic became a major issue this summer in one neighborhood located on the south side of Woodland Park. These concerns have led to a temporary road closure, dealing with a shortcut that officials claim was creating massive safety hazards.
For months, drivers cut past highway traffic by turning at the signal light right by the Safeway shopping center and taking back roads to the light near the Charis Bible College.
However, this year the area saw a huge spike in traffic in the south part of Woodland Park, part of which is in unincorporated Teller County meaning that it is not inside Woodland Park city limits. Many local residents and county officials blamed the increase in traffic on the fact that mobile driving apps referred to the route as a quicker way through Woodland Park than the usual cruise on Hwy. 24.
According to Teller County Transportation Operations Supervisor Brad Shaw, county officials received multiple complaints from people living in that part of town.
“There were reports that there was a lot of through-traffic in the area,” Shaw said. “People were using roads in the residential neighborhoods to cut around the highway through Woodland Park which was creating a lot of extra traffic.” He said that local residents reported that many of the cars were driving down East and West Valley Drive in south Woodland Park at speeds that were significantly faster than the road’s 20 mile-per-hour speed limit.
Teller County Commissioner Norm Steen said that he heard some really scary stories of what people had seen on that road.
“Some of the horror stories we heard about people driving quickly in the area included a school bus getting struck right after it had dropped off children,” Steen said. He stated he heard about other situations where pets had been run over and people had to jump into the ditch to protect them and their children from speeders.
Shaw said that there were two community meetings held on the subject where county officials listened to the concerns of local residents. He said that during the two meetings, several solutions to the problem including speed bumps were discussed.
Verdict to Close The Road
But the Teller County Board of Commissioners concluded tha closing a section of the road where Laura Lane, South Elizan Drive, and East Valley Drive all met was the best way to prevent the excessive amount of traffic from the short cutters. They also thought that it was the most viable solution to mitigate the issue of increased traffic through the residential neighborhoods in that area.
According to Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker, closing the road at that spot seemed to be the best of two or three options that were on the table. “The road was closed as a traffic calming effort,” Decker said.
“The people that were driving at high rates of speed were making the area very dangerous.”
According to Decker, the road closure is not intended to be permanent. The county officials hope that by temporarily calming the traffic in that area, that people will stop taking the shortcut because it will no longer show up on mobile driving apps as a quicker route.
However, Steen did not seem to be confident that just closing the road temporarily will fix the traffic problem.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that if we reopen the road that people will change their behavior,” Steen said. The commissioner believes that if the road is reopened, it will be a matter of time before people begin speeding through there again in order to shortcut Hwy. 24.”
The Need for a Bypass
According to local resident Scott Gray, who lives near the road closure, not all residents in the area agreed that this part of the thoroughfare should be gated off to through traffic. “They said that the complaints came from West Valley Drive residents,” Gray said. “They also had a petition that had been signed by up to 60 people, not West Valley Drive residents but in the area, that said ‘no don’t do it’ but they did it anyways.”
He said that he felt the decision to close the road was made rather quickly. Since the road has been closed, Gray and his family have had to take a different, longer route to get to the Safeway complex or Hwy. 24 on the east side of Woodland Park which forces them to drive up a steep hill on South Park Street.
“The closure during the summer, during the nice weather times, is just annoying. What I’m concerned about is the winter time,” Gray said. “When we get 2, 3, or 4 inches of snow overnight, generally, I can’t make a left and go up the hill on Park Street because it’s too slick. I have to go down the hill. Now that the road is closed, that means I have to go up West Valley, all the way to the west side of town and then back up so that I can go down the hill. This winter the road closure will be a problem for me.”
The other major concern Gray cited is the road closure has increased traffic on South Park Street.
Gray believes that the traffic on Park Road near where he lives has increased by three or four times since the recent road closure took place. He fears that the city of Woodland Park will decide to close more roads in the neighborhood and force him and his neighbors to take the extra-long route on W. Valley Dr. to the far west side of town in order for them to leave their house. He worries that more road closures in the area could make it inconvenient to live in their neighborhood, thus negatively impacting the value of his home.
According to Shaw, the road will be closed indefinitely pending further traffic studies. Local residents such as Gray and others hope that the road gets reopened after the busy summer season comes to an end.
However, Gray contends that the road closure did not fix the traffic boom problem, but that it just diverted all of the traffic onto other roads in town and back onto Highway 24. Gray, along with several other local citizens, say that there is only one real solution to the region’s traffic problem.
“The fix, and everyone knows it, is the bypass,” Gray stated. “That’s the fix. We’ve got everybody and their brother trying to get through town for whatever reason and closing roads won’t fix it. We need a bypass, they should have done it 20 ago. I understand that it is difficult but that is the actual solution.”